Innovative children’s hospice opens in Italy with support from IGHI

“Arca sull’albero”, a new children’s hospice in Bologna, Italy, was inaugurated last week, marking a significant milestone in children’s palliative care. The hospice, funded by Fondazione Hospice Maria Teresa Chiantore Seràgnoli, is a testament to innovative, user-centred design and care. Researchers and designers from the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) and its Helix Centre played a pivotal role in its development, ensuring the incorporation of lessons from international best practices and of user-centred innovation.

Aerial view of "Arca sull’albero" children’s hospice in Italy. Credits: Enrico Cano
Aerial view of “Arca sull’albero” children’s hospice in Italy. Credits: Enrico Cano

Access to children’s palliative care is a human right. According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, “children are entitled to quality health services, including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care services.’’ However, 8 million children around the world need specialist palliative care, but only 10% of them actually receive it. Even in otherwise developed health systems like Italy’s, provision of paediatric palliative care is limited.

The new children’s hospice

“Arca sull’albero” is one of the first and most innovative children’s hospices in Italy. It stands out as unique in several key ways. Its architecture, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, merges functionality with a serene, home-like atmosphere, providing a comforting sanctuary with natural light and open spaces.

"Arca sull’albero" children’s hospice in Italy. Credits: Enrico Cano
“Arca sull’albero” children’s hospice in Italy. Credits: Enrico Cano

The hospice’s care protocols align with global best practices, ensuring the highest standard and continuity of care. Focus on user experience is paramount, with every detail meticulously designed to make the stay comfortable and stress-free for children and their families. Additionally, the hospice’s governance and management processes aim to maximise effectiveness and openness to innovation.

Isabella Seràgnoli, from the Fondazione Hospice Maria Teresa Chiantore Seràgnoli, said:

“The children’s hospice represents concretely the concept of care. Palliative care is not only about treating physical pain, but also psychological pain, and requires attention to the situation of the person and their family. For this reason the hospice is an open and permeable place, a home where social relations and affection are possible and in which to experience beauty.’’

Collaboration with IGHI

The IGHI team has been involved from the project’s inception. Leveraging its extensive expertise and research, IGHI informed the hospice’s strategy and its approach to innovation, ensuring that “Arca sull’albero” not only meets but exceeds global standards in children’s palliative care.

Designers from the Helix Centre engaged with children and their families, including siblings, to understand their needs and put them at the centre of IGHI’s research efforts in this area. They also designed prototypes of innovative solutions that informed the plans of Fondazione Hospice Maria Teresa Chiantore Seràgnoli  for the new hospice.

Gianluca Fontana, Deputy Director of IGHI, said:

“It is rare to be able to play an active role in the creation of a new healthcare provider. I am proud of the work of many IGHI team members in researching and designing solutions in children palliative care. I am extremely grateful to Fondazione Seràgnoli for the trust they put in us and for their support of our activities in this space.”

A team from IGHI’s Centre for Health Policy led the development of the report, “The children’s palliative care provider of the future: A blueprint to spark, scale and share innovation”. The report emphasises the importance of innovation in children’s palliative care, advocating for adopting new technologies, interdisciplinary collaboration, and a patient-centred approach. Through interviews with 51 experts in 27 countries, the project identified 9 key features of innovative paediatric palliative care providers:

      • People
      • Culture
      • Leadership
      • Vision
      • Organisation
      • Partnerships
      • Services
      • Technology
      • Place

“Arca sull’albero” exemplifies these characteristics, setting a new standard for children’s hospices in Italy and beyond. The report also revealed the opportunity for dedicated advancement of excellence and innovation in paediatric palliative care worldwide. With the support of the partnership between Fondazione Hospice Maria Teresa Chiantore Seràgnoli and the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Global Treehouse Foundation was established and is now working in partnership with innovators, funders, providers and entrepreneurs to address the global lack of access to children’s palliative care.

Laura Dale-Harris, Founder Director of Global Treehouse Foundation, added :

“Arca sull’albero is a model of where the global children’s palliative care field can grow – deep local roots with families, children, and communities – partnered with innovators and expertise like IGHI. We are excited to welcome Arca sull’albero to the community of entrepreneurial children’s palliative care providers around the world.”

The opening event

At the inauguration last week, Gianluca Fontana from IGHI took part in an event alongside Renzo Piano, the building’s renowned architect, paediatric palliative care experts Professor Julia Downing, CEO of the International Children’s Palliative Care Network, and Dr Renee McCulloch from Great Ormond Street Hospital and University College London. The speakers presented the latest development in paediatric palliative care globally to an audience of paediatricians and nurses from the Emilia Romagna region.

Gianluca Fontana speaking at the inauguration event. Credits: Jonty Roland
Gianluca Fontana speaking at the inauguration event. Credits: Jonty Roland

Renzo Piano described his vision for the architectural project, an “ark on the trees where children and families can find relief surrounded by the magic and natural beauty of the woods”. Professor Downing presented a global overview of the development of paediatric palliative care services. Dr McCulloch shared her experience working in research and clinical practice in the sector. Gianluca Fontana spoke about the key features of the paediatric palliative care provider of the future.

Renzo Piano speaking at the inauguration event. Credits: IGHI
Renzo Piano speaking at the inauguration event. Credits: IGHI

The future

IGHI is committed to improvement and innovation in paediatric palliative care and in the health of children more broadly. Beside the continued collaboration with Arca sull’albero and Global Treehouse Foundation, researchers at IGHI and Helix have a number of early stage projects working with children and young people, particularly around mental health and rare diseases, for which they are interested in exploring opportunities for further collaboration and funding.